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A Mother Eagle with Broken Wings

that Sethe, an arrogant mother, fails to achieve freedom unlike Florens by committing a serious error, internalizing the notorious system of slavery: in thinking that she owns her children as a slaveholder does his slaves. Although Sethe as a hawk fails to fly into the wilderness inside herself, that is, “a place outside the dominant culture,” Florens succeeds in subverting the definitions by attacking “the blacksmith,” who stands as a symbol of the power of the definer.

storyteller is Lina, who is devoted to Florens like a mother at Jacob’s farm, and

“[t]hey had memorable nights, lying together, when Florens listened in rigid delight to Lina’s stories” (A Mercy 59). Their great favorite is a tale of a mother eagle who is fierce and protective of her young, but defenseless against humans:

One day, ran the story, an eagle laid her eggs in a nest far above and far beyond the snakes and paws that hunted them. . . . At the tremble of a leaf, the scent of any other life, her frown deepens, her head jerks and her feathers quietly lift. Her talons are sharpened on rock; her beak is like the scythe of a war god. She is fierce, protecting her borning young. But one thing she cannot defend against: the evil thoughts of man. (60, emphasis mine)

The first thing that is apparent here is how similar the expressions of the bird are to the ones of Sethe in section one, although they are poles apart in the way they act. While the most likely explanation of the myth is that it is an allegory of European colonization in the New World,8 another explanation for the story lies a little deeper. That is to say, it stands for the sexual subjugation of the female by the male. It is noteworthy that the eagle’s world is invaded by a man who attacks her with a stick, a symbol for the menace of men. The tale expresses the difficult situation of women in A Mercy: their wings taken away, the women have lost their freedom and become the slaves of men.

In A Mercy, we are shown the conflict between male and female through their approaches to nature. While men try to keep nature under his control, women worship it; or it may be nearer to the truth to say that they are nature

itself. For example, for Jacob Vaark, a white settler who tries “to bring nature under control” (47), a golden fog of the new continent, blocking his way, is something mysterious he has to conquer: “[u]nlike the English fogs he had known since he [Jacob] could walk, or those way north where he lived now, this one was sun fired, turning the world into thick, hot gold. Penetrating it was like struggling through a dream. . . . It was only after he reached the live oak trees that the fog wavered and split. He moved faster then, more in control but missing, too, the blinding gold he had come through” (7-8). Here, we see Jacob’s ambivalent feelings toward mother nature: while he conquers the sacred fog by his masculine force by

“penetrating” it and has a dream of “a ground house of many rooms rising on a hill above the fog” (33), he “misses” it which embraces him like mother’s womb.

By contrast, women pay their respects to nature and live with it. Lina, a Native American woman who works with Florens as a slave at Jacob’s farm, provides an example. She is attracted by the mystic power of fire, in spite of the fact that it has completely burned down her village: “[f]ire. How quick. How purposefully it ate what had been built, what had been life. Cleansing somehow and scandalous in beauty. Even before a simple hearth or encouraging a flame to boil water she felt a sweet twinge of agitation” (47). Another example is Rebekka, Jacob’s wife, who cherishes conflicting emotions toward water. On the long voyage toward New World, she talks to sea water as if it were a human:

There was nothing in the world to prepare her [Rebekka] for a life of water, on water, about water; sickened by it and desperate for it.

Mesmerized and bored by the look of it, especially at midday when the women were allowed another hour on deck. Then she talked to

the sea. “Stay still, don’t hurtle me. No. Move, move, excite me.

Trust me, I will keep your secrets: that the smell of you is like fresh monthly blood; that you own the glove and land is afterthought to entertain you; that the world beneath you is both graveyard and heaven” (71).

We can say that Morrison often uses the imagery of water as a representation of femininity (as can be seen in Beloved). In doing so, it is likely that Morrison carefully avoids to attach only one meaning to it (the same observation can be applied to the imagery of fire here); in the extract above, water (and also fire) both nurtures and tortures humans. That is to say, we see that the antithetical concept of life and death lies in nature at the same time. Women in A Mercy understand the twofold characteristics of nature and try to coexist together with it.

In addition, in a soliloquy of Rebekka, we will find a description of the sexual subjugation of the female by the male, as well as the myth of a mother eagle. Rebekka has no choice but to be a servant, a prostitute or a wife, and chooses to be a wife, since it seems to be the safest choice. On a journey by ship from England to America in order to marry a man who has purchased her, Rebekka enjoys the company of the “exiled, thrown-away women” (80). Women at the bottom of the social pyramid can luxuriate in a feeling of freedom: “[p]erhaps they [the women] were blotting out, as she [Rebekka] was, what they fled and what might await them. Wretched as was the space they crouched in, it was nevertheless blank where a past did not haunt nor a future beckon. Women of and for men, in those few moments they were neither. . . . For them, unable to see the sky, time became simply the running sea, unmarked, eternal and of no matter”

(83). In the extract above, appears a temporal men-free community “the running sea” creates, in which miscellaneous women of all sorts and conditions are liberated from obligations imposed in a male-dominant society. But the blank interval lasts only briefly; as soon as they land at a port, they again become

“women of and for men.”

Furthermore, women living for men fail to establish intimate maternal relationships. In the myth of a mother eagle, a child is violently separated from its mother by a traveler. A baby bird that hatches from one of the eggs is Florens, who has “mother hunger” (61) as an orphan. Her overwhelming sense of loss is expressed as images of her disintegrated self. Although an orphan Sorrow becomes “Complete” (132) as an integrated self when she has a daughter, Florens cannot prevent herself from breaking into pieces.